Sustainability: Clothes Swapping

This article originally featured in The Procrastination Paper Sustainability Issue, in January 2020

Sustainability is having a moment, with fashion particularly under the spotlight. The average lifespan of a garment in the UK is just 2.2 years and every week we send 11 million items of clothing to landfill. With some fabrics taking up to 200 years to decompose this is a huge environmental catastrophe! But what can we do to reduce the impact of our wardrobes while still enjoying fashion?

For the past 5 years I have been part of the team who run Leeds Community Clothes Exchange, a volunteer-led project which aims to extend the lifespan of clothing and reduce the amount that is sent to landfill. We started our monthly swaps back in 2008 and have now over 3000 members!


Clothes swapping is one of the easiest ways to reduce the impact of your wardrobe, whether through an organised swap or on a smaller scale with friends. By increasing the lifespan of our clothes by just nine months we can reduce their carbon footprints by up to 30%!

Before getting involved with LCCE I was your average shopper, making regular purchases from fast-fashion high street stores. After going as a swapper, I quickly started volunteering and learning more about sustainability. In 2016 I committed to a year of no new clothes, with only swapped, secondhand or vintage items allowed, and I’ve never looked back!

Fashion is a great way to express ourselves, and shopping (or swapping) more consciously doesn’t mean you have to opt out completely. My personal style has become much more adventurous since I started swapping – you can try something without commitment. I’ve seen vintage dresses, designer shoes and even wedding dresses swapped at LCCE and now sport an almost entirely swapped wardrobe. It’s a great feeling to see your unwanted item taken off to it’s new home, and spotting them being worn at a future event or making an appearance on their new owners instagram!

Over the last few years a network of clothes exchanges has sprung up all over the country so if you search for one in your local area you should find one near you – and if not, why not start your own? All you need is clothes and some like-minded people to swap with. 

Swapping not for you? No problem! Charity shops are available on every high street, and they’ve really upped their game, with seasonal edits and influencer collabs! Some even have online stores where you can get your second-hand fix from the comfort of your sofa. Reselling apps like depop are also great places to pick up second hand items, particularly if you’re after a particular brand or style. 

My top tips for swapping:

  • Try everything on! Size labels are often misleading, and you never know what might fit if you give it a try.
  • Keep an open mind. If you go searching for a specific item chances are you won’t find what you’re looking for, but sometimes the right item will leap out at you.

Written by Co-Director Lauren Cowdery

2019 Year in Review

2019 was our biggest year yet at LCCE with a huge increase in membership, lots of media coverage and some fantastic opportunties for our volunteer team! Take a look back at our highlights of the year!

Screenshot 2019-12-31 at 18.10.14

We started the year with a a bang when one of our Directors was featured in The Guardian! This lead to appearances on Radio Leeds, Radio Humberside, BBC World Service and Radio 4 really putting the work we do at LCCE on the map!
If you missed the article, you can read it here. 

We also were featured on BBC Look North, who came to film at our February exchange! We’re really proud of what we do at LCCE and it was great to see if recognised by our local community!


We held our annual volunteer summer social at Workshop where we made reuseable
make-up wipes from rejected items. We can’t thank our volunteers enough for their hard work all year, so this is our opportunity to give something back and learn a new upcycling skill in the process!


This year we welcomed our  3000th member! This was an increase of over 500 members since 2018 which is just incredible! Thank you so much to you all who’ve helped to spread the word, invited your friends and allowed us to expad our community!

In October we took part in the Leeds Festival of Gothica fashion show, styling 7 models using clothing from the exchange. Our models all did a fantastic job and looked amazing, and we had a great time putting the looks together.


And of course, we couldn’t have done it without the hard work of our amazing team of volunteers, management committee and directors who make all this possible!

So a huge thank you to everyone who’s supported LCCE this year, whether your a regular swapper, first-time attendee or a volunteer, we couldn’t do it without you!

Here’s to a great 2020!

A Shift Towards Sustainable Fashion

As awareness surrounding the importance of sustainability spreads, an increasing premium is being placed on efforts to shift our society towards consumption patterns that are mindful of our impact on the planet in reference to climate change. But where do our current fashion habits fall in to this shift towards ethical sustainability, can fashion make this important leap in securing our future?

As a billion-dollar industry, it is no surprise that fashion is liable for a large portion of the permanent changes to the Earth’s climate. Britain’s footprint resulting from the consumption of clothing, for example, amounts to 1.7 million tonnes of material waste, 6,300 million cubic meters of water and 26 million tonnes of CO 2 (from production to disposal) per year. This puts clothing fourth after housing, transport and food in terms of its impact on the environment, according to new research by the government’s waste advisory body Wrap.

Despite significant progress made by brands and retailers to minimise their impact, energy, waste and water usage are predicted to keep rising. Many manufacturers are now using sustainable cotton initiatives and innovative dyeing technology to reduce environmental pressure, as well as reduce the usage of harmful chemicals as part of a UK-wide push to promote sustainability schemes.

However, whilst brands are beginning to reduce their carbon and environmental footprint, the problem has now shifted to consumption. The on-going saturation of fashion adverts, magazines and celebrity ‘looks’ feeds our constant desire to consume, and when identity formation is the leading cause of consumer habits, individuals regularly redesign themselves through the purchase of new clothes. In 2016, over 1,130,000 tonnes of clothes were purchased in the UK alone.

Theorists have argued that the idea of ‘multiple selves in evolution’ is central to fashion lovers. Vast consumer demands are – sadly – fuelled by growing insecurity, peer pressure and a desire to ‘fit in’ in a competitive world of ubiquitous social media. Thus, it will be impossible to radically cut our consumption patterns until an understanding of the relationship behind materialistic consumption and human satisfaction has been established.

Part of the problem lies in the complexity of today’s global supply chains. Consumers have been radically distanced from the origin and production of their clothing and are therefore blind-sighted from the detrimental side effects of their fast fashion habits. It seems only in the wake of catastrophic events such as the 2013 Bangladesh factory collapse that killed 1,137 workers (mostly women) that consumers have awoken to the reality of ‘fast fashion’. Events like these have seen the rise in anti-consumerism movements, with responsibility no being weighted heavily on consumers, who of course are free to choose if and what they purchase.

In a drive to prevent sweatshop labour, catastrophic factory incidents and global environmental degradation, anti-consumerist alternative models are developing within the fashion world. A sustainable fashion paradigm must open our eyes to the bigger picture, acknowledging human needs and desires through reviving our relationships with both ourselves and others, including the individuals who design and manufacture our clothes. ‘Slow Fashion’ encourages creative participation, reworking, swapping and mending our clothes to work towards the elimination of waste. It celebrates individualisation, unique and diverse styles, and the learning of new skills such as sewing.

Current industrial manufacturing fails to account for diversity amongst consumers, leading to many products being modelled to an unrealistic ‘average’ size, and the mass production of lines and lines of identical pieces. In order for a new fashion ethic that breeds self-love, diversity, ethical manufacture and environmental sustainability, the industry will have to be responsive to our diverse tastes. Slow fashion will popularise smaller, local brands and makers whose flexibility will allow for the production of one-off, personal items that allow consumers to re-connect with the manufacture process and express themselves through fashion.

This rampant rejection of the Fordist business model that dominated 20th century manufacturing – where ‘Fast Fashion’ culture fed disposable consumerism – derives from progress in technologies that respond closely to consumer demands. This ethic will strengthen relationships between buyer/user and producer as well as that between people and the environment. The notion of second hand and sharing between friends, encouraging recycling over disposability, and teaching young people to design and hand-make their own clothing will further engage us with sustainable ideologies. Garments designed for longevity that value social integration and evoke debates about our role in nurturing the planet will realign current identity-formation driven consumer habits with those associated with sustainability; it is about “designing confidence – and capability – including pieces that encourage versatility, inventiveness, personalisation and individual participation.

Article by Freya Marechal, 3rd year Fashion Communication student at Leeds Arts University 


Review of 2017

2017 was a bumper year for us at LCCE and we’re super proud of all our achievements!

We welcomed our 2,221st member! This is a huge achievement for us and our hope is that in 2018 we can reach our 2500th member! 2018 is our 10 year anniversary, so watch this space for some celebrations coming up next year!

We held 2 socials for our volunteers, where we got to know each other better over food, drink and crafts. We like to show our appreciation for the work our volunteers put in every month and what better way than an afternoon of fun and making something new! We’ll be hosting more socials in 2018, so watch this space for more information.

We also shared the sustainable fashion message of LCCE far and wide, appearing on Made in Leeds TV, being interviewed for the Team Leeds Renovation podcast and had articles published by Lucky Dip Club and Independent Leeds! Click on the links to catch up if you missed them!

We also grabbed every opportunity to play dress up, with our witchy themed October exchange visited by a full coven of volunteers! We’re always blown away by the creativity of our team when it comes to their outfits, and halloween was no exception!

We also teamed up with Leeds Libraries to show you how to repurpose and upcycle your clothes. Take your LCCE items down to the library and their team will show you how to make it into something awesome. So far they’ve shown us how to embroider and print on our items, with more sessions in store in 2018! Find out more here.

And of course, we couldn’t have done it without our amazing team of volunteers, who make all this possible! So a huge thank you to all our volunteers in 2017 – whether you’re a regular or a one-off we really appreciate all your hard work.

If you’d like to join this team of fantastic humans in 2018 and help to keep LCCE running, drop us a line at

“Livia Firth: Every time you shop, always think, ‘Will I wear this a minimum of 30 times?”

Our clothing magpie Becky talks about how she determines if something is allowed in her impressive collection of clothing.

This year on the blog we have featured attendees of the exchange that have opted not to buy new, be that for a year or longer. Personally I would find this challenge extremely hard, so I choose to use the 30 wears method. Anything new I buy, I think about what use I am going to get out of this new item. Where will it fit into my wardrobe? I also keep a list of new purchases as a way of being mindful about what i’m accumulating.

For those that follow me over on Instagram you’ll have been treated to an almost constant stream of selfies. I have been trying to document what I wear throughout the year, as we are now over halfway I thought I’d share with you were i’m up to.


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Fairtrade Fortnight 2017


Looking at the image above do you feel that everyone is being paid fairly for their labor and costs that they have put in to the garment? The Fairtrade Foundation don’t and this fortnight they aim to highlight the work they do.

We currently use a wide variety of language to describe how we are reducing our impact on the environment, and creating a sustainable future for the planet and people. So what is Fairtrade and where dose it fit in?

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